The Challenge of Declining K–12 Enrollment in Northern New England

Abstract: COVID-related public health concerns and declining tax revenues raised or continue to raise important questions throughout the country about when and how to restart schools and how to fund them in the near term. For communities across northern New England, there are also fundamental, longer-term concerns over declines in the student population that will still confront districts well beyond the current academic year. In every county in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, the number of young residents has declined over the last two decades. Northern New England is not alone in facing this demographic shift, but it nonetheless poses challenges to the sustainability of local economies and public services, particularly schools. Rising costs have combined with declining enrollment to drive up per-pupil expenditures on elementary and secondary education. Each New England state saw a substantial decline in revenue in fiscal year 2020 and is projected to see more losses in FY2021. In response, school administrators and policymakers have taken steps to try to reduce the anticipated budget shortfalls. State policymakers and local districts across the region have also responded to the longer-term issue of declining school-age population by consolidating school districts, closing schools, and in some cases, reducing K–12 expenditures. Fourteen percent of the northern New England public schools that were open in 2000 are now closed. The communities with the largest declines in enrollment are among those that reduced school expenditures by a rate that nearly matched the rate at which their enrollment decreased; nevertheless, per-pupil spending rose in their counties and nearly every other county. Projections call for the school-age population of northern New England to continue to decline into 2030, suggesting that additional changes may be needed to adequately serve the residents of the affected communities.

Keywords: COVID-19;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Part of Series: New England Public Policy Center Regional Brief

Publication Date: 2020-09-15

Number: 2020-04